Like most people in my age bracket (over the hill but too
young to retire), I'm not very thrilled with my current
profession. Yes, I work at one of the premiere institutions
of higher education in the entire world (Massachusetts
Institute of Technology), and yes, I'm well paid, but
lately the work hasn't been very gratifying. In a nut
shell, I'd rather be fishing.
Somehow working fishing into my current job description
hasn't been easy. I have managed to teach a fly fishing
class, which is in the process of becoming a regular
subject offered through the Physical Education Department
(allowing me to say, when asked, "I teach at MIT"), but
that accounts for only a very few hours in a year of forty
hour weeks. I can walk to the polluted Charles River at
lunch and fish for the large mutant carp that somehow
survive in the sludge, but it just doesn't appeal to me,
and the thought of handling a fish that comes from that
toxic slue gives me a shiver down the spine.
On rare occasions I have to travel for my job, either to
attend a conference or to testify in a court case as a
witness for the government. The conferences don't tend
to be in prime fishing locales (the last one was in New
York City), and the court cases can be anywhere. These
cases inevitably involve fraudulent business dealings by
unscrupulous individuals selling amazing breakthroughs in
technology and claiming to have advanced degrees from
MIT-usually in programs that we don't even offer. It is
always a whirlwind junket for me, two days and one night
including travel, and not usually to fishing Mecca (another
trip was to Columbia, South Carolina, a very charming city
but much too far from the ocean). But now and again the
stars and planets align and I get lucky, and this was the
case recently when I was subpoenaed to testify in a trial
in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Preparing for these cases is fairly easy, a routine records
search that determines whether or not an individual attended
MIT, but this case involved additional research on my part.
After determining that the individual did not go to MIT (no
surprise there), I had to go directly to Map Quest to see
just how far I would be from Flats Dude (alas, it was well
over 200 miles) and to post a question on various bulletin
boards for advice on fishing this area. When packing I made
sure to include the seven piece travel rod, a reel, some
leader material and my fly wallet.
I booked the earliest flight I could, 6:45 am, so as to spend
the most time in the sunshine state as possible. But this
meant arriving at the airport by 5:45, which meant I had to
be at the airport shuttle station by 5:15, which meant I had
to get up at 4:00 am, but that is what we do to fish. I was
told to book a room at the Airport Sheraton, but, when I called
it was filled, so I was moved to the Yankee Clipper, a Sheraton
hotel located directly on the beach. Seeing the photos, I
planned to sit on my deck sipping pina coladas, watching for
breaking fish, then grabbing my rod and running to catch them.
When I arrived at my room I noted that my view wasn't of
the blue Atlantic, but of the alley and service entrance
to the hotel, but I couldn't complain as it was paid for
by your tax dollars. And it was less than a five-minute
walk to the beach, with the temperature, 72 degrees, 50
degrees warmer than what I had left behind in New England.
I had to remain in contact until 4:30 pm to see if I'd get
called to court, and, being one of two people in all of
North America who doesn't have a cell phone, that meant
staying in the room. But at the stroke of 4:30 I put
on my trunks, grabbed the rod, and headed to the beach.
There was no one bathing, as the water was too cold,
but cold to a Floridian and cold to a northern Yankee
are two very different things. The water was probably
in the high sixties, which felt like a Massachusetts
hot tub to me. While the water was fine, the wind was
another story-twenty to thirty mile gusts directly in
my face. I could still manage a cast between blows,
but not of the distance I would have liked. To add
injury to insult, the reel I brought with me, an
inexpensive Redington, froze up for some reason and
I cursed myself for not bringing one of my better reels,
either the Albright or the Islander. The reel problem
proved not to be a real problem, as there were no fish
to be seen, no less caught. I returned to my room and
managed to disassemble the reel with a pair of nail
clippers and a pen. A nut had worked loose, and I
was able to fix it so that at least the spool would
turn on the frame. That done, I decided to go to dinner.
I walked the marinas along the inter-coastal waterway,
where half million and million dollar yachts are dwarfed
by ten million dollar yachts (what kind of money does one
have to be able to spend ten million on a boat?). And
while that was interesting, something even more intriguing
caught my eye: in the crystal clear waters I could see
huge schools of snook meandering among the pilings.
Right beneath the "No Fishing From The Dock" signs.
A little further on the mate from a charter boat was
cleaning king mackerel for his sports, and as he threw
the heads and entrails into the brine huge jack crevalle
were feeding in frenzy. These fish were big enough to
swallow the mackerel heads, much larger than my fist,
in one gulp, and I stood beneath another "No Fishing
From The Dock" sign, thinking that, if I arrived early
enough in the morning I might be able to throw a cast
or two to these fish. If I were caught, I'd pretend
I didn't speak English. After a delicious dinner of
crab cakes and snapper, I retired to my room, set the
alarm for four a.m. and dozed off with visions of giant
fish dancing in my head.
I awoke at 7:30 to the alarm, which had been buzzing for
three and a half hours. The early departure from the day
before had caught up to me, and I slept right through my
wake up call. At 8:00 the prosecutor called to say that
an FBI agent would be at the hotel at 8:45 to pick me up
for court. I made a quick run to the beach, sans rod,
to have a look. Of course there wasn't a whisper of the
wind and the water was as calm as could be. Of course.
Testifying in court is always a hurry up and wait situation.
I struck up conversation with a fellow witness who had been
there since the previous Friday, or five whole days. His
testimony was rather complex; mine would be simple, and I
hoped to get in and out. My flight wasn't until 6:45 that
evening, and I planned to get in an afternoon's fishing.
But the noon hour rolled around and we broke for lunch. I
ate a tasty Cuban pressed sandwich (man, I love everything
about Florida!) and returned to court and waiting. Three
o'clock came, then four, and still no call for my testimony.
An FBI agent pulled me aside and said I might have to stay
another day. He took my flight number and hotel, and said
he'd make the necessary arrangements.
Normally this would be dreadful news; instead I was already
planning on going to sleep at 8 p.m. and waking up at four
to fish four hours in the morning before court. Four thirty
rolled around, then four forty-five. In fifteen minutes I
would be heading out for more crab cakes prior to a good
night's sleep and, I hoped, a great morning fishing.
But the best laid plans of mice and fishermen often go awry.
At 4:55 they called me into the courtroom, and I swore to
tell the truth as long as they didn't question me about
fishing. The questions were simple and to the point - first
my credentials were established, then the defendant's credentials
were unestablished. The defense chose not to cross examine.
The whole thing took five minutes.
I was driven to the airport by another FBI agent who, though
I begged, wouldn't turn on the flashing lights in his unmarked
car. In three hours I was back in the sub freezing temperatures
typical of February in Massachusetts and a three month wait
until the striped bass returned from the Chesapeake. ~ Dave
Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an
avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor.
He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet
newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats)
and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.